7 Technologies That Can Change The Future of Shipbuilding

7 Technologies That Can Change The Future of Shipbuilding

Advancement in technology is key to the development of any industry. The shipbuilding industry is no exception. In fact, shipbuilding is changing at a rapid rate taking advantage of highly advanced technologies which aim to solve the issues such as environmental pollution, rising fuel costs etc.

Riding high on R&D activities, the shipping industry has developed some potentially revolutionary technologies. Mentioned below are seven important technologies which might help to change the future of shipbuilding.

  1. 3-D Printing Technology:The 3D printing technology makes it possible to construct real objects from virtual 3-D objects. This process is carried out by cutting virtual object in 2-D slices and printing the real one slice by slice. There have been several 3-D printing processes invented till date but very few are commercially affordable and sustainable. Currently, this technology is being used in industries to produce scientific equipment, small structures and models for various applications.

Recently, NSWC Carderock made a fabricated model of the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) using its 3-D printer, first uploading CAD drawings of ship model in it. Further developments in this process can lead the industry to use this technique to build complex geometries of ship like bulbous bow easily. The prospect of using 3-D printers to seek quick replacement of ship’s part for repairing purpose is also being investigated. The Economist claims use this technology to be the “Third Industrial Revolution“.

  1. Shipbuilding Robotics:Recent trends suggest that the shipbuilding industry is recognizing robotics as a driver of efficiency along with a method to prevent workers from doing dangerous tasks such as welding. The shortage of skilled labour is also one of the reasons to look upon robotics. Robots can carry out welding, blasting, painting, heavy lifting and other tasks in shipyards.

Geoje shipyard in South Korea which boasts of launching around 30 ships a year, 68% of its production processes is carried out by robotic systems which contributed to achieve it such a high production rate.

Robot was first designed for welding process in shipyards but now inspection and pipe cleaning robots have also come. The most interesting one is spider robot which autonomously crawls over the surface of vessel and prepares surface for painting by blasting off rust and other contaminants. The ‘Iron Man’ wearable robot is also in fray which can enhance worker’s strength and stamina. Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), which has developed mini welding robots, is set to use robotics in shipbuilding. These trends clearly suggest that the future of shipyards will be smart and digital.

  1. Ballast Free Ship Design: The concept has potential to mitigate the problem of ballast water disposal which causes discharge of non-native species and creates several ecological problems.

The design has network of longitudinal pipes from bow to stern in ship’s hull causing constant flow of local sea water which prevents transfer of contaminated water or water of one ecosystem to other.

Though this technology is in experimental and developmental stage, if it is successfully tested, then ballast free design is definitely going to be the future of shipbuilding.

  1. LNG Fueled engines:Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) surge in popularity as an alternate fuel for ships is visible these days because of its environmental friendliness. That is why, the market of LNG fueled ship engines is emerging and its prospects are high as well.

In the LNG engines, CO2 emission is reduced by 20-25% as compared to diesel engines, NOX emissions are cut by almost 92%, while SOX and particulates emissions are almost completely eliminated. Moreover, the new generation ship engines are strongly required in order to comply with the TIER 3 restrictions of 2016 by IMO.Therefore, LNG solution is the best at the moment and the industry realizes it as well.

The major ship engine designers, Mitsubishi, Wartsila, Rolles-Royce and MAN Diesel & Turbo, are busy in the technological development of LNG fuelled engines. Classification societies are also active in this regard and have issued “Rules for LNG for Ships”. Recently, Deen shipping developed a 6,100 dwt dual-fuelled chemical tanker named ‘MTS ARGONON’ which is the world’s first  new-built LNG fueled tanker. Classed by Lloyd’s Register, it sails on dual fuel, 80% LNG & 20% diesel.

Besides being an environmental friendly fuel, LNG is also cheaper than diesel, which helps the ship to save significant amount of money over time. Furthermore, LNG powered escort tug has been developed by BB with LNG engine support of Rolles-Royce marine. If these indications are anything to believe, most of the future ships will be LNG powered contributing in green shipping.

  1. Solar & Wind Powered Ships:Imagine the situation when we will have finished all our reservoir of oil and gas; really horrible! Sailing ships, once used in past, are definitely not going to return but shipbuilding industry is trying hard to develop technologies to utilise renewable sources of energy (i.e, wind & sun) to run the ships considering today’s challenges.

The world’s largest solar powered ship named ‘Turanor’ is a 100 metric ton catamaran which motored around the world without using any fuel and is currently being used as a research vessel. Though exclusive solar or wind powered ships look commercially and practically not viable today, they can’t be ruled out of future use with more technical advancements.

Recently, many technologies have come which support the big ships to reduce fuel consumption by utilizing solar panels or rigid sails. A device named Energy Sail (patent pending) has been developed by Eco Marine Power will help the ships to extract power from wind and sun so as to reduce fuel costs and emission of greenhouse gases. It is exclusively designed for shipping and can be fitted to wide variety of vessels from oil carrier to patrol ships.

  1. Buckypaper: Buckypaper is a thin sheet made up of carbon nanotubes (CNT). Each CNT is 50,000 thinner than human air. Comparing with the conventional shipbuilding material (i.e. steel), buckypaper is 1/10th the weight of steel but potentially 500 times stronger in strength  and 2 times harder than diamond when its sheets are compiled to form a composite. The vessel built from this lighter material would require less fuel, hence increasing energy efficiency. It is corrosion resistant and flame retardant which could prevent fire on ships. A research has already been initiated for the use of buckypaper as a construction material of a future aeroplane. So, a similar trend can’t be ruled out in case of shipbuilding.
  2. Integrated Electric Propulsion :The integrated electric propulsion technology is an arrangement wherein gas turbines or diesel generators or both generate three-phase electricity which can be used to power electric motors which turns propellers or water jets. The system uses electric transmission instead of mechanical transmission which eliminates the need for clutches and reduces or eliminates the use of gearboxes.

Some of the advantages of using this technology are freedom of placement of engine, less noisy ships, reduction in weight and volume etc.

Warships of future like HMS Queen Elizabeth of Royal Navy and Zumwalt Class Destroyers of US Navy will use the integrated electric propulsion.

The above mentioned are some of the most famous and talked about technologies will be used in shipbuilding processes in future.